Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Quite Interesting Post (in American English)

Last year there was a post on the MacMillan Dictionary Blog entitled The trickiest word in American. It wasn't exactly what I expected based on the title, but I

The post compares British English to American English. Following is an excerpt:

Quite: It’s such a common word. Americans use it, Brits use it, and it’s the same word, right? Well no, not quite. Have a look at these sentences. Both Americans and Brits could say them all. But two of them mean different things, depending on whether an American or a Brit says them. Which ones?

1. This is quite interesting.
2. Quite fascinating, in fact.
3. I’m usually quite good at this kind of exercise.
4. But you’re quite correct. This is tricky.

One common meaning of quite in both varieties is ‘completely’. See 2 and 4 above. These two sentences mean the same in American and British English.

Fascinating and correct are both ungradable adjectives, so things are either fascinating/correct or not. There’s no half way about it. But there are other adjectives that are gradable, so for example, there can be different degrees of good or interesting. And that’s where things get complicated and quite means different things. See 1 and 3 above.

If your American boss says your work is quite good, should you be pleased or a little concerned? In British English quite good only means pretty good or fairly good, but in American English it’s much more positive. Quite good means very good, so you can give yourself a pat on the back.

While I find this post quite interesting, I find it quite fascinating (in a positive way) as well. My American English lexical inventory lists the word "fascinating" as a gradable adjective that is synonomous with interesting.

Image credit here.


Amber M said...

In British English we could also just say, 'quite', on its own. Can it be/is it used like this in American English?
Eg. Nice day, isn't it?

Laura Payne said...

Amber - Yes, some people use it that way in American English too.

Laura Payne said...

Amber - Yes, some people use it that way in American English too.

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